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PA S S T H E H E N N Y

47

LAFAYETTE, COGNAC AND THE REVOLUTION CHAPTER 4

I

n 1777, when he was but nineteen years old, Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette, a French aristocrat and military officer, sailed to the United States with a number of like-minded young adventurers aboard La Victoire, a ship he had purchased for the purpose of bringing aid to the American Revolution against the British Crown. It wasn’t a matter of simply supporting a budding democracy, (although that no doubt appealed to his noble and chivalrous nature), but also that America was fighting England, the enemy of France, and that his father, Michel du Motier, had been killed by an English cannon ball when Lafayette was a young child. He also saw the New World conflict as a unique opportunity for him to make a reputation for himself as a soldier on his own terms. The slow-sailing ship carrying the Marquis took an extraordinary fifty-four

days to make the crossing. Lafayette wasn’t immediately hailed as America’s savior on his arrival to the capitol, then Philadelphia, but he caught the attention of the Continental Congress when he offered to serve in the American Army not only without pay, but at his own expense. The Marquis quickly became a young favorite of General George Washington, and it was often remarked that the older Washington, who had no children, treated Lafayette almost like a son. Shot in the leg in his first battle at Brandywine Creek, he still managed to rally his troops and organize an orderly pullback before being treated for his wound. Washington cited him for “bravery and military ardor” and recommended him for command of his own division, which the Continental Congress granted Lafayette at the age of twenty-one. The inexperienced but intrepid Lafayette was instrumental in foiling British moves,

© 2016 Rizzoli International Publications. All Rights Reserved.


Š 2016 Rizzoli International Publications. All Rights Reserved.


Š 2016 Rizzoli International Publications. All Rights Reserved.


HOW THE FRENC H BROUGHT SPIRIT TO THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION

W. E. Woodward, the distinguished biographer of George Washington and Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette, has frequently pointed out that revolutionary times were hardly sober times. The American Revolution began in taverns, and even when it became a formal affair strategic meetings were often held in inns where drinks were freely quaffed. The consumption of alcoholic beverages was integral to rebel culture, perhaps especially in America. Woodward wrote, “Drinking was not a furtive sin, as it is with us; nor was it a pastime. It was a sort of athletic sport. Men tried for records as one-bottle men or two-bottle men. Three-bottle men, and there were a few, were looked up to with the reverence that we show nowadays only to champion prizefighters and noted preachers. Washington was a one-bottle man. This means that at dinner he customarily drank a pint of Madeira besides rum punch and beer. He was Catholic in his drinking habits and often drank cider, champagne, and brandy. If he was ever intoxicated I have never read of it; and, judging from what I know of his character, I am inclined to think he never was.” Woodward’s portrait of Lafayette shows him being something like the son George Washington never had. Lafayette and his French compatriots provided crucial military expertise in the colonies’ fight for freedom from the British Crown. Lafayette, despite his youth and inexperience, was one of the finest field commanders of the American cause. Woodward

concluded, “The French helped us a lot with the Revolution, but some of their most valued contributions had nothing to do with the war. They brought us the cocktail—the ancient French coquetel, ice cream, and the brass band; three pillars of American civilization.” George Washington was known to be quite fond of a concoction known as Fish House Punch, apparently invented in 1732 at the Philadelphia Fishing Club. At a victory celebration at New York’s Fraunces Tavern he made thirteen individual toasts—one to each state of the Union—each with a cup of the punch that featured generous amounts of cognac, as well as rum, lemon juice, sugar, peach brandy, and sometimes tea. The punch was served in what a Virginia gentleman described as “a bowl big enough to have swimmed a half a dozen of young Geese.” Wild Geese, perhaps.

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Š 2016 Rizzoli International Publications. All Rights Reserved.


Š 2016 Rizzoli International Publications. All Rights Reserved.


YOU WANT SOME BITTERS WITH THAT? This may be a Henny heresy to the purists, but there are few medicines I’d rather take than a shot of cognac with a couple shakes of bitters—Peychaud’s, Angostura, rhubarb… As long as there has been distilled alcohol there have been bitters, infusions of herbs and botanicals in spirits, and before that there was wine infused with bitters. The alchemists probably invented what is known as bitters, although anyone who ever concocted their own formula likely thought of himself as an alchemist too, even if he was also a hustler. In the Middle Ages herbal medicine boomed because alcoholic spirits allowed the extraction of more of the active ingredients of medicinal herbs. And as long as there have been bitters there have been cocktails. The alcoholic infusion of herbs and spices dates back to the days when there was essentially no boundary between medicine and mixology. I first encountered them as Angostura bitters, a staple of just about every American bar in the 1950s and ’60s. Bitters are shaken into cocktails or drunk with plain soda or tonic, but many people preferred to take their bitters in a good cognac. What we call an Amaro is basically a bitters and brandy liqueur such as FernetBranca, which has twenty-seven herbs in a brandy base. (It used to have more but they dropped the opium.) Do such drinks work? Maybe they do and maybe there’s a placebo syndrome at work too. But like Mets fans always say, “You gotta believe.”

The traditional gin and tonic is made with quinine water, and quinine was the most popular antimalarial agent in use from the seventeenth century until the 1940s. For much of that time the most popular way to take it was in a tonic of soda water and sugar, which was combined with gin (which also contains numerous possibly medicinal ingredients including anise, angelica root and seed, orris root, licorice root, cinnamon, almond, cubeb, savory, lime peel, grapefruit peel, and coriander). The French liked their quinine with cognac, with one measure Hennessy. Does it prevent malaria? I can’t prove that it does, but I can assure you that after a couple you won’t mind the mosquitos as much.

Hent odic te senis nis volest molorro rioriam conet andus audantia quis exereni hicidit autatque niasper aturio. Dantiae catecta nes reiur rem anis in nis ut dolorio stiores volorit, alitatem re nihitat que

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MEDICAL AND THERAPEUTIC USE OF BRANDY ADDRESSED TO THE MEDICAL PROFESSION Contrary to general prejudice, the new, colorless spirit is not harmful, for at no stage in its life is the properly distilled wine noxious when reasonably consumed. The efficacity of wine alcohol as a medicine has never been seriously disputed since it was first produced in France some four hundred years ago and called ‘Eau-de-Vie’ or ‘Water of Life’ In small quantities it increases the secretion of gastric juice and the movements of the stomach, thus aiding digestion. It is useful in exhaustion and debility. It increases the force and frequency of the pulse by acting reflexively through the nerves of the stomach. At present the weight of authority and the deduction of experts are in favour of that view which maintains that, within certain limits (one ounce to one and a half ounces of absolute alcohol to a healthy man) alcohol is oxidized and destroyed in the organism, and yields up force which is applied as nervous, muscular and gland force.

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HENNESSY TENNESSY TOOTLES THE FLUTE!

At the very least you hear it on St. Patrick’s Day: Oh! the drums go bang, and the cymbals clang, and the horns they blaze away, McCarthy pumps the old bazoon while I the pipes do play; And, Hennessey Tennessy tootles the flute, and the music is somethin’ grand, A credit to old Ireland is McNamara’s Band! But was the flute tootler in McNamara’s band really Hennessy from Tennessee? The truth lies with the lyricists of the 1946 Bing Crosby hit “McNamara’s Band,” the three jesters who also back up Der Bingle on this sing-a-long favorite—the Irish pub karaoke prototype. Apparently “McNamara’s Band” is based on the historical St. Mary’s Prize Fife & Drum Band, founded in Limerick, Ireland, in 1885, but there is no record of a Hennessy Tennessy in the original Irish ensemble. Our guess is that Tennessy (or Tennessee) seemed like a more apt rhyme than clemency, chemically, mentally, or pregnancy.

Ecestia as doluptas abor epelene non rehendio.lab orpostrum quate. Ecestia epelene non rehendio.lab non quate.

Ecestia as doluptas aborepelene non rehendio beatate inctam esequi quostius. consed maxim sam a qui nis restibus eatatem poressitibus in es del ilitasped quam. Ecestia as doluptas aborepelene non rehendio beatate inctam esequi quostius. consed maxim aborepelene non rehendio beatate inctam esequi quostius. consed maxim

Ecestia as doluptas abor epelene non rehendio.lab orpostrum quate. epelene non rehendio.lab

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my d o c to r to l d m e t o wat c h my drinking now i drink in front of a mirror rod ney da n g e r f i e l d

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PA S S T H E H E N N Y

193

THE PERFECTIONIST A CONVERSATION WITH YANN FILLIOUX, MASTER BLENDER AND TASTER EXTRAORDINAIRE CHAPTER 16

T

he most hallowed space at Hennessy’s Cognac headquarters is the tasting room where the tasting committee meets—trying every item considered for purchase, every cognac in its inventory, and every new blend. Lined with endless shelves of eau-de-vie samples, it’s a beautiful and serene room that resembles an old-fashioned chemistry lab. Here Mr. Yann Fillioux, a seventh-generation Hennessy legend, works under an oil portrait of his esteemed grandfather and predecessor Raymond Fillioux (1888–1974) presiding over Hennessy’s tasting committee and creating the distinguished blends the company is famous for around the world.

Yann Fillioux – Okay—I’m ready for any question. I’ll try to answer my best, and if I’m not able to answer I’ll try to find one. Glenn O’Brien – Well, it’s not a science book, so I can’t imagine you not knowing an answer. Yann Fillioux – It’s not a science book, yes. Fortunately not, as I’m not a scientist. You seem like you could be a scientist—you certainly seem very scientific. The only thing I know really well in the cognac field is quality. That’s my fundamental knowledge. I don’t know oenology. I’m not an expert in vineyards nor distillation—but I know quality. I’ve spent more than fifty years with Hennessy, and I know

© 2016 Rizzoli International Publications. All Rights Reserved.


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the perfectionist

When you taste a cognac, is it simply, ‘Yes, we’ll buy it’ or ‘No, we won’t buy it,’ or do you sometimes give them notes? Yes, of course. If you refuse a cognac, you have to explain why. If you buy a cognac, you have to give it a mark to know what you have. If you’re going to mix a few cognacs from the same area with the same level of tasting quality, they can be assembled for a bigger batch—small batches aren’t useful. How important are the different regions in Cognac? The Fin Bois, Grande Champagne, and so on? That’s not an easy question. When somebody wants to sell to Hennessy, we must visit the estate and vineyard. If the vineyard isn’t properly located we won’t buy from it. Is it the soil or the weather? Soil. Soil, soil, soil! Some soils are very poor for cognac-making, so it’s not worth working with them. If you look at our books of cognacs for the past forty years, the proportion of Grande Champagne is high because it can age better than cognacs from other areas. The best Grande Champagne will be able to last longer than the best Fins Bois—that’s sure. But there are Grandes Champagne that are worth little, and there are great Fins Bois that are worth a lot. There is no one area that’s all good and another that’s all bad.

Explain the relationship between aging cognac and putting it in glass. What’s the reason? It varies. All cognacs reach an age when you wonder whether or not to place them in glass demijohns or leave them in oak barrels. Most cognacs will reach about fifty-some years of age. For the best cognacs, the problem when you reach seventy years is that age becomes more powerful and stronger than elegance. Some sixty-year cognacs are really sophisticated. Normally, the time to begin thinking about moving to demijohns is after sixty years of age, but that can vary. If you have a cognac that’s one-hundred years or older, it’s best to put it in a demijohn. In a demijohn there’s no evaporation; in a barrel, there ’s evaporation—that’s the difference. Some people prefer younger, fifty-year-old cognacs with a lot of elegance. Others prefer cognac that’s richer with more age. It’s a matter of personal taste. What’s the key to being a Master Blender of your caliber? It’s all about perfection. You have to be a perfectionist if you want to do everything that must be done. I like it like that. Hennessy is an interesting company in many aspects, but is extremely interesting because of its standards of perfection. We’re by far the largest house in the industry, but at the same time we’re probably the most dedicated to quality. It’s not a very common combination if you look at the world.

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21 8 down Aquas es serae sitiur, optatint quos eaqui dolorit assint qui ulpa enit repelis ducilliquam

the bottle

by a piece of antique window hardware— introduced the star system for differentiating cognacs and ensuring quality: One star signified two years of age, two stars four years, and three stars six years. Hennessy’s three-star system was so innovative that other companies adopted it to display the quality of their cognac. By 1888, 78 percent of the brand’s cognac was shipped in bottles. Hennessy finally discontinued shipping in casks in 1911—but the bottles and labels were just beginning to get interesting. Although Hennessy is synonymous with barrel-shaped bottles, perhaps the most famous of Hennessy’s bottles (as well as the most beautiful) is the X.O bottle designed in 1947 by Marquis Gerald de Geoffre de Chabrignac, the nephew of Maurice Hennessy. The Marquis was a company man as Director General of Hennessy, but he was also a Sunday painter and a successful horse breeder, but perhaps he missed his calling. He seems to have been a natural sculptor, as the X.O bottle has been a global symbol of beauty and perfection for almost seventy years.

© 2016 Rizzoli International Publications. All Rights Reserved.


Š 2016 Rizzoli International Publications. All Rights Reserved.

Hennessy  

A new book from Rizzoli. ISBN: 978-0-8478-4752-5 On sale: 2/14/17

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